Religious Liberty  Policy Letter  International Religious Freedom

ERLC & RFI on the Hudud Law in Malaysia

The history of Malaysia has long reflected a rich harmony of both religious and ethnic pluralism by upholding religious freedom as a fundamental human right. However, proposed legislation in Malaysia, known as the Hudud law, jeopardizes the religious liberties afforded to its citizens.

In a joint letter submitted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, concerns are raised about the implementation of the Islamic Penal Code (The Hudud Law) that would threaten religious liberty and equality throughout the country.

Currently, the Malaysian Constitution gives Syariah courts jurisdiction over personal matters for Muslims, such as property disputes and divorce, while limiting their scope in sentencing. In recent years, however, growing political movements have attempted to expand the jurisdiction of Syariah courts and enact the Hudud law. The punishments for violating the Hudud law are extreme and include amputations and stoning. Notably, in the sphere of religious freedom, the Hudud law criminalizes attempts to leave the Islamic faith, making conversion from Islam dangerous and life threatening.

The Constitution of Malaysia clearly outlines and protects against discrimination on religious grounds. For example, Malaysians are protected to practice and confess any religion in peace and harmony. Malaysians are also protected to express their religion in public settings and are not required to participate in any ceremony or act of worship that violates their religious beliefs. The Hudud law stands in direct violation of the religious freedoms outlined and opposes the pluralistic society envisioned in the Malaysian Constitution.

The ability to change your religion is also a fundamental aspect of religious freedom. Right now, conversion out of Islam is already made difficult in Malaysia due to Syariah courts refusal to allow citizens to alter their religion when previously registered as a Muslim. The enactment of the Hudud law will also make conversion out of Islam much more difficult by criminalizing attempts to the leave the Islamic faith.

This should be of grave concern to Christians. Religious freedom is a fundamental right endowed by God that governments are to protect, not threaten. Being created in the Image of God notably gives people the freedom to live according to their own conscience and deeply held religious beliefs. Discrimination based on religious grounds directly contradicts God’s design of human beings and ultimately endangers human dignity.

In upholding religious freedom, it is imperative that the Malaysian government rejects all legislation attempting to codify the Hudud law. Additionally, it is crucial that the Malaysian government solidifies and strengthens its stance towards religious freedom. Religious liberty should not be sacrificed in Malaysia, but it should be affirmed as a fundamental right intrinsically endowed to all.

For more on the threats of the Hudud Law in Malaysia, read the joint letter submitted by ERLC and RFI to the UN Universal Periodic Review.

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